9,000 years of anarchy in Ireland?

I posted once before on Ireland and their anarchy that lasted for more than a thousand years:

This most remarkable historical example of a society of libertarian law and courts first came to my attention while reading Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty. This was a society where not only the courts and the law were largely libertarian, but they were basically anarcho-capitalist in the modern sense of the phrase. This Celtic society was not some primitive society or tribe but rather it was a highly complex society. Ireland for centuries was the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized society in all of Western Europe. And all without a government!

Murray Rothbard documented the Irish Anarchy in his book “For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto were he wrote in part:

The most remarkable historical example of a society of libertarian law and courts, however, has been neglected by historians until very recently. And this was also a society where not only the courts and the law were largely libertarian, but where they operated within a purely state-less and libertarian society. This was ancient Ireland—an Ireland which persisted in this libertarian path for roughly a thousand years until its brutal conquest by England in the seventeenth century. And, in contrast to many similarly functioning primitive tribes (such as the Ibos in West Africa, and many European tribes), preconquest Ireland was not in any sense a “primitive” society: it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe. For a thousand years, then, ancient Celtic Ireland had no State or anything like it. As the leading authority on ancient Irish law has written:

“There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice. . . . There was no trace of State-administered justice.”

How then was justice secured? The basic political unit of ancient Ireland was the tuath. All “freemen” who owned land, all professionals, and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of a tuath. Each tuath’s members formed an annual assembly which decided all common policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and elected or deposed their “kings.” An important point is that, in contrast to primitive tribes, no one was stuck or bound to a given tuath, either because of kinship or of geographical location. Individual members were free to, and often did, secede from a tuath and join a competing tuath. Often, two or more tuatha decided to merge into a single, more efficient unit. As Professor Peden states, “the tuath is thus a body of persons voluntarily united for socially beneficial purposes and the sum total of the landed properties of its members constituted its territorial dimension.” In short, they did not have the modern State with its claim to sovereignty over a given (usually expanding) territorial area, divorced from the landed property rights of its subjects; on the contrary, tuatha were voluntary associations which only comprised the landed properties of its voluntary members. Historically, about 80 to 100 tuatha coexisted at any time throughout Ireland.

Notice that Rothbard and others have said that the Irish Anarchy lasted a thousand years. Rothbard wrote, “This was ancient Ireland—an Ireland which persisted in this libertarian path for roughly a thousand years until its brutal conquest by England in the seventeenth century.” But what happened around 600 AD that marks the starting point of the Irish anarchy? We find that the documentation of this libertarian period began around 600 AD when Christian monks and priests came to Ireland as they were fleeing the violent upheavals surrounding the fall of the Roman Empire. These monks are the ones to bring modern writing to the Irish. The Irish had a form of written communication that did not document history — that was done by their “oral traditions”. The Christian clergy over a long period of time assembled a book called the “Book of Invasions” to document in written fashion the Irish oral traditions.

The oral traditions and any written histories showed no shift in the Irish culture in any way, no wars or conquests: so we would have to believe that that anarchy that met the Christians immigrants (and confused them) in 600 AD was not new at all but had a long history even at that point. We can say with certainty that it ended with the English invasions of the 1640’s.  We can find no archaeological site that indicates any central state other than just one slight possibility that goes back 5,500 years or the few hill fortresses built in Southern Ireland to repel the invading Swiss Celts of 100 BC. There is much evidence of farming, prosperous trading communities, centers of art, and religious areas going back 9,000 years but no evidence of any State. All we can find is evidence that the Irish lived peaceably for an extended period of time and were trading goods and services with their neighbors.

There is no reason or any evidence to believe anything other than the Irish anarchy lasted at least 9,000 years and maybe even much more than that. The history of a state is the record of that State conducting wars, and we find the Irish history records peaceful, voluntary cooperation until the barbarous English invaded in the 1640’s AD.

Almost anytime I talk with a modern American I am asked how in the world do I expect people to be able to exist without a government to control them. Besides the obvious fact that governments are our biggest enemy and should be done away with on their record of tyrannies; we have seen anarchies work before and that should give us something to model our plans on.

16 thoughts on “9,000 years of anarchy in Ireland?

  1. Interesting insight. I knew about Celtic Ireland being a stateless society and have referenced it on numerous occasion, but the notion that it lasted as long as it did is something I would be intrigued to know much more about. Thanks for this!

  2. The title says 9000 years of Anarchy, but I only see 900 discussed. Is that a typo or am I missing something?. (Not that nearly 1000 years with no government is something to sneeze at.) This gives me some much needed ammo when inevitably the challenge hurled is name one place this ever worked. I have so far only been able to respond with the American West and the higher elevations in China, and the question I return with is “Name one example of a government that didn’t enslave its people? They have never been able to give me an single example. Thanks for the info!

    • The normal count is from 600 AD to the 1640 AD invasion by the English for a little over a thousand years. But my post talks about what was before 600 AD. There is no reason not to believe the archaeological evidence of no state going back well over 9,000 years.

      We have written records of the 1,000 years and we have evidence of the 9,000 years.

      I hope that helps.

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  4. I would like to see more than one reference on this, because even Wikipedia claims the tuatha constantly fought with each other over resources.

    • If, in fact, the various tuatha fought over various things does not say Ireland was not an anarchy. The whole point was that there is no evidence that the anarchy started with the Monks arriving in 600AD and writing stuff down. It began much earlier obviously.

      Recall that an anarchy is the absence of the State which demands a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a defined territorial area.

  5. Rothbard’s claim that Ireland’s was “the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe” is very misleading. Thanks to it being an island in the far west, Ireland did indeed escape the first waves of barbarian conquest: and at that time Rothbard’s assertion was probably true. But as soon as the barbarian onslaught diminished, Ireland reverted to its traditional obscurity and relative backwardness.

    You must be aware of the huge impact of the Vikings (founders of Dublin) and their descendants, the Normans, on the whole of Ireland – not just the substantial areas they ruled. These invaders made hay precisely because of the inability of the Irish powers-that-be to organise effective resistance. And the “barbarous English” only came in the 16th and 17th centuries because of the predeliction of those exact same powers to ally with Spain and France against the English crown and religion. What other reaction did they expect?

    When one looks at the bitter history endured by the Irish people down the centuries, largely due to the feckless uselessness of their leaders, it is a pretty big stretch to claim it as a success for anarchism (or anything else).

    • Rothbard was right and most experts agree on the 1000 year history of anarchy. In fact, many believe the anarchy lasted more than 9,000 years even though we can only prove 1,000 of it by written records.

      The Irish were the most advanced of the time, and you may feel “mislead” by that fact but that is your problem. The simple fact is that a long lasting anarchy proved to be a very viable way for society to organize itself.

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  7. Pingback: Ancient Ireland Was Not Libertarian | Robert Nielsen

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